No. 24 Texas Tech hopes to keep rising vs. Kennesaw State

For a freshman, Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith seems to have a pretty good handle on college basketball despite being just eight games into his Red Raider career.

Along with averaging 9.4 points and ranking among the team leaders in steals, blocks and rebounds, Smith showed a decent understanding of the minds of AP Top 25 voters in the aftermath of the Red Raiders’ victory over No. 22 Nevada last week.

“To me, every game is a big game,” Smith said. “This one, I guess, was big because we’re just trying to get back in the rankings. That was a ranked team. If we didn’t win that, it would be hard to get back in the rankings until Big 12 play.”

Now No. 24 Texas Tech will focus on staying ranked for a while longer, and that task begins with a home game against Kennesaw State (1-7) on Wednesday night.

Texas Tech debuted in the Top 25 this season after winning its first six games, which included a victory over then-No. 20 Northwestern. The Red Raiders were ranked 22nd for a week, but Seton Hall bumped them to the fringes of the poll when the Pirates claimed an 89-79 victory over Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden.

Just as Smith predicted, though, the Red Raiders (7-1) reentered the rankings on the strength of their 82-76 overtime victory over Nevada last week.

The Owls, with a mirror-opposite record of the Red Raiders, will be a decided underdog when they take the court at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. But that’s nothing new for Kennesaw State. So far this season, the Owls have played at Butler, Florida State and Washington and lost those games by an average of 17 points.

However, Kennesaw State might be closer to finding its rhythm. The Owls lost by 14 at Washington just eight days before the Huskies traveled to Kansas City to thump No. 2 Kansas by nine.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard seems to think Kennesaw State’s record hides the kind of threat the Owls actually pose, especially with coach Al Skinner on the bench.

“It starts with the coach,” Beard said. “Al Skinner is a Basketball Hall of Fame-type coach. Coach Skinner is well respected. He’s in the early stages of building that program there. They’ve got really good players. They’ve played a really competitive schedule this year and been in every game.”

Kennesaw State and Texas Tech both thrive on scoring from the guard position. Owls guards James Scott and Nick Masterson average 16.1 and 11.6 points, respectively, while guard Keenan Evans leads the Red Raiders at 17.9 points per game. Texas Tech guards Jarrett Culver and Smith follow averaging 10.9 and 9.4 points.

Kennesaw State will likely have problems contending with the Red Raiders’ depth.

Texas Tech has used a 10-player rotation so far this season with all 10 averaging five points or better. Evans took over the game against Nevada to lead Texas Tech to the crucial win last week, but he’s still averaging just 26.8 minutes per game as the Red Raiders liberally dole out playing time.

After the midweek game against Kennesaw State, Texas Tech will play a throwback game against Rice on Saturday at Lubbock Municipal Coliseum, where the program played home games from 1956-1999.